School employees, community members and members of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education listen to a presentation on Voznesenka and Kachemak Selo schools during a Monday, Sept. 9, 2019 meeting of the school board at Homer High School in Homer, Alaska. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)

School employees, community members and members of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education listen to a presentation on Voznesenka and Kachemak Selo schools during a Monday, Sept. 9, 2019 meeting of the school board at Homer High School in Homer, Alaska. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)

No agreement yet as educator strike looms

Two education associations rejected the district’s offer at their Thursday bargaining session.

Educators and the school district are both preparing for a school shutdown, after executive committees with the Kenai Peninsula Education Association and the Kenai Peninsula Education Support Association voted on Friday to notify the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District of their intent to strike starting at 7 a.m. Tuesday.

“The failure of the KPBSD to adequately address the Association’s primary concern of affordable healthcare premiums for public school employees continues to hinder an acceptable agreement,” the associations said in a release Friday.

David Brighton, president of the Kenai Peninsula Education Association, said Saturday that the associations had not heard from the district since Friday.

”It’s my earnest hope that the school board will come out of executive session ready to sign our contract, that way we can avoid a strike,” Brighton said.

Pegge Erkeneff, director of communications for the school district, said Saturday afternoon that the school board is meeting in closed executive session Monday, but the contents of that meeting are unknown.

Erkeneff said the district has been working to prepare a counter offer, but has sent out messages to parents and guardians alerting them to be prepared for an emergency school closure that would begin Tuesday. School will be open on a regular schedule Monday.

The associations rejected the district’s offer at their Thursday bargaining session and made a counter proposal, with a deadline for the district to respond at 4 p.m., Friday.

After 4 p.m. Friday, the district released a press release noting they asked for additional information on the proposal from the associations.

Saturday afternoon, the district posted an update saying all 42 schools in the borough district would be closed beginning Tuesday.

“The school district bargaining team will continue to work with KPEA and KPESA to reach a Tentative Agreement that would end this strike,” the update said.

If educators and the district are unable to reach an agreement, teachers will be picketing at schools across the district Tuesday, Brighton said Saturday.

The district and the associations have been negotiating a contract for nearly 600 days, and bargaining has snagged on the rising cost of health care.

“The high cost of healthcare is causing educators and their families to leave the district and is becoming a barrier to recruiting and retaining high quality education professionals for our students,” Brighton said in the Friday release. “This is a crisis and the District has the power to fix it.”

A previous agreement effective through June 2018 remains in use for employees without contracts.

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